Over the next four years, cultural life in the French capital flourished, with classical music, art exhibits and filmmaking thriving to such a degree that philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre would later say of that time, “We put up with it very well.” By 1943, more than 80,000 French women who bore children to German soldiers had claimed benefits from the Third Reich; fashion icon Coco Chanel was a shameless collaborator throughout the war; and the leading French film actress of the day brazenly declared, “My heart is French but my [body] is international.”
It was not until Allied forces invaded Sicily and Soviet troops began surging westward that many Parisians began to grow weary of the occupation. While such cynicism in the face of evil seems unthinkable eight decades later, it is worth remembering that France suffered more than 5 million killed and wounded during World War I. Over half of all Frenchmen mobilized for battle became casualties, and almost 4 of 10 soldiers between 19 and 22 were killed in action. The “war to end all wars” laid waste to an entire generation and fueled the cynicism that Ernest Hemingway described a decade later in “A Farewell to Arms.”
“Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage” were now considered “obscene,” wrote Hemingway. For Parisians exhausted by such epic loss, a speedy surrender to Hitler’s war machine seemed the only viable option.
Thankfully, fate and two oceans have protected Americans from such existential threats that could have left our own nation’s survival teetering in the balance. Today, a wealthy and increasingly isolated United States is enjoying a decade-long economic recovery, a booming stock market and low unemployment rates managed by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Crime has been declining for years, abortion rates continue to fall and capitalism has driven global poverty to record lows.
Despite all this, elected leaders in Washington cower in corners, not in fear of invading armies, but of nasty tweets and negative commentary. It brings to mind Henry Kissinger’s dry observation that university politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.
Observing the behavior of Republican senators during President Trump’s impeachment has shown just how craven the Party of Lincoln has become. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared that “I’m not an impartial juror” before solemnly swearing to do “impartial justice.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) once declared Trump unfit for office, called for his exclusion from the Republican Party and tweeted that the best way to make America great again was to “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” But after Trump’s election, Graham quickly fell in line and has likewise stated that “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.” He also bragged that he would do everything in his power to make the impeachment proceedings “die quickly” and compared them to a “lynching.” While Senate leaders bring shame to themselves daily, most GOP senators are desperate to avoid votes that might require the smallest bit of political courage.
But what do they have to fear? Far from facing an existential crisis, these politicians are fretting over votes that would be supported by an overwhelming number of citizens. Almost 7 in 10 Americans want the Senate to call more witnesses. Fifty-eight percent believe Trump abused the power of the presidency, and almost as many say he obstructed the investigation into his impeachment trial. A majority also believe the 45th president should be removed from office.
The fecklessness of these Trump apparatchiks lies in stark contrast to the courage of past Republicans who brought down Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.)and then President Richard Nixon. Even the fledging French Resistance eventually rose up to save Paris from Hitler’s wrath. In his book, Smith recounts the incredible story of a Nazi general who risked his family’s life by conspiring with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and the French underground to save the City of Lights.
Such heroism is neither expected nor required of Republican senators sitting through Trump’s impeachment proceedings. All America demands is a fair trial, an impartial jury and the calling of relevant witnesses. If McConnell can’t deliver on those aspirational values, then his heart may be American but his political soul belongs to a bombastic, intemperate buffoon. Who shall we now look to for the liberation of the Republican Party?